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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Pro-Palestine ‘flytilla’ activists vow to return to Middle East

by Simon Gaskell, Western Mail

FOUR pro-Palestine activists from Wales who were detained in Israel last night vowed a return to the Middle East after staging hunger strikes and enduring hot and cramped conditions in jail.

The women were the only remaining British detainees from a so-called “flytilla” protest who had been arrested when they arrived at Tel Aviv airport a week ago.
Pippa Bartolotti, 57, the deputy leader of the Wales Green Party; Dee Murphy, 56, from Swansea, a founder member of Swansea Palestine Community Link; Fiona Williams, 46, from Mumbles; and Joyce Giblin from Newport were among 124 people arrested on their way to the West Bank
They were part of a “flytilla” protest in response to flotilla of ships being prevented by Greece from sailing to the Gaza Strip in a bid to break the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian territory.
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After being arrested, the women had resisted deportation from Givon prison in Ramle and Ms Williams and Ms Murphy had briefly gone on hunger strike in solidarity with male detainees who were denied a phone call.
The Welsh women, alongside one other German woman, were the last people to leave the jail.

Now Ms Murphy has spoken about her week in captivity and explained she still doesn’t know what crime the group committed.And she said she was ready to return to Israel – despite running the risk of being arrested again.An hour after arriving at her home in Swansea yesterday, Ms Murphy said: “I’m absolutely determined. I can’t see how but I know I’m going to find a way.

“If we take this lying down those people in the West Bank have lost more friends. They have lost enough.”

She said they were detained as soon as they handed over their passports.
“We were never given a reason,” said Ms Murphy. “We asked again and again what law have we broken, what crime have we committed, why are we in this deportation centre?
“We were never given an answer. We don’t really know now.
“The Israelis said we were in transit and we weren’t actually in Israel which is why we didn’t have normal detainee rights.

“We weren’t allowed phone calls or food to be brought in because we were not in Israel they said.”
Ms Murphy said she believed had the group been less honest about their intentions they would have been successful, something she emphasised with a T-shirt protest in jail.“If you knew the average age of the group... it was about 55 to 60 including a lot of retirees and old people,” she said. “They gave us T-shirts and I wrote on mine: ‘I’m in an Israeli jail because I refuse to lie’.

“If I had said I was on a Christian pilgrimage I would have got through. Of course it is political.”
The flytilla party was heading for the Aida Palestinian refugee camp where a week of activities had been specially organised for them.
Ms Murphy said: “If they had said: ‘Go to Bethlehem [in the Israeli occupied West Bank],’ none of this was going to happen.

“This was a week of cultural activities at the Aida refugee camp.
“They were looking forward to us coming and had organised for us to stay with Palestinian families and put on a hall for overspill. Everything was in place, it was heart-breaking.”

Conditions in the prison were cramped at first with between six and eight people sleeping in the same cell. “I don’t want to dramatise it,” Ms Murphy said. “It was basic. We had a shower in a room. It was warm and we had toilets in the room – it wasn’t very pleasant.”
The prisoners’ road home began when the fellow German female prisoner was put in front of an Israeli judge at her request.
She was told she had been held because she had come to Israel to provoke and was duly deported.
Ms Murphy said the group felt it was “closure” by getting into court and in front of a judge and that paved the way to go home.
“There was kind of a feeling of closure. I spoke to my lawyer. He said: ‘She has been the test case for you. To stay now you will only get the same results.’
“I’m just so glad to get out of there.”
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